Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Cold Coming ....


Ducks in Bishop's Glen
Originally uploaded by Neil McIntosh.
This wonderful photo from Neil's photostream of the Bishop's Glen this afternoon brought to mind the opening lines of Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" - lines which are themselves an adaptation from a sermon by the 17th century Bishop Launcelot Andrewes. Whether or not the Magi travelled through the snow in "the very dead of winter" doesn't really matter; what does matter in the poem is the sense of seeking, and after their discovery of the Christ child the men's bewildered inability to live at peace with the old gods to to which their countrymen still clung.

This was also in my mind when I wrote the poem "Searching", which I read at the carol service on Wednesday. It's actually a very odd experience to read your own work in public; I found myself torn between the need to convey meaning at a first hearing and the need to make it sound a cohesive poetic whole. However, I was grateful to have been asked and exhilerated by its effect on the people who spoke to me. I could get a taste for this!

SEARCHING

We are plodding through a desert
of our own making. We,
the wise men of our time, knowing
everything and nothing, search for what
we do not understand.
The mysteries of time and space are
hidden from us no longer, but
inner space defeats us.
The vacancy offends our
proud mastery of life and death.
We who cure and kill with
profligate ease cannot bear
such painful uncertainty.

And so with each
turning year we mount our
star-led beasts and seek again
the strange child, desperately.

And some are seeking kindness
or the fleeting warmth of joy,
and some the distant music
of a half-remembered song.
But do we dare to follow
where that star-light leads,
clutching tawdry gifts as
the proof of our intent?

For
far beyond the stable where the
child becomes the man
the swift breath of love's passing bears
the wood scent and the tears
and the guideless journey onward
from the weeping and the tomb.

©C.M.M. 12/03

Thursday, December 29, 2005

And now ...


Hard at work
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
It’s morning. Almost time for coffee. And I’m not brain-dead any more. I’ve even been thinking. This is what emerged:
There are two kinds of religious – or at least church – experience. I’m talking personally, of course, and very broadly. But what I’m thinking of is the divide between worship as consumer and worship as service provider. Yesterday I was part of the provision whereby others might have an uplifting or profound experience. I sang, I read a poem; they listened. While I was doing that, my main concern was to put on a good performance. I actually find it risky to allow myself to be carried away when the music, say, is very special – it’s easy to lose the line or miss an entry if you start thinking about God, or experience the sensation which may well be spiritual in essence but destroys concentration. So you sing, or read, or lead intercessions or even preach (for I’ve done that too) and you concentrate on making the end product the very best you can achieve.

Now that is in its own way an offering, if you like, but it’s very different from the intense stillness of meditation. Still you may look, but you’re working – working as if in a gym, if you’re really singing, and that includes the whispery quiet stuff like the Coventry Carol (for 3 voices!) yesterday. And there’s a part of me that longs sometimes to be more passive – to sit/kneel and let others mediate God to me. But then I remember that it was performing which started all this off for me – not sitting reverently in the pews but stressed out of my skull singing at the requiem of an old friend, in the very cathedral we were in yesterday.

I guess it’s like everything else – a balanced diet is needed. It’s too easy for habitual providers to provide all the time. I think church musicians may be especially vulnerable – because a good organist makes such a difference to the worship of others that it’s hard for them to find space to receive. I know priests are an obvious case, but I have a sense that they are taught to make space for themselves as a necessary adjunct to their work. And in these days of shrinking numbers of paid providers there is bound to be increasing pressure on all of us to take an active part in worship.

Perhaps the time of passive pew fodder is ended. Probably A Good Thing too.

Carols at Cumbrae


Rehearsal
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
An excellent day - singing in the Carol service at the Cathedral of The Isles, Millport, on the Isle of Cumbrae. The ad hoc choir was the largest I've sung in there - 26 singers, I believe - and the entire rehearsal time cannot have been more than two and a half hours. When I do something like this, I cannot help reflecting on the fact that I've been singing here for 36 years - and wondering how long a voice can hold out!

It is interesting that when a group like this works together, age seems irrelevant; the singers' ages ranged from late twenties to early sixties and the shared hilarity revealed a fairly uniform level of infantile humour. Do we go on feeling like this till we're so decrepit that we can't stagger up the Coo Lane to the Cathedral?

Maybe tomorrow I'll summon up the mental energy to attempt more mature reflection - but no' the noo!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

An aberration.

Paid a brief visit to THE SALES today. It was late afternoon, the M8 was filled with red tail lights, we were on our way home from Edinburgh - and the impulse struck. Before you could say "bad idea" we were in a queue of cars inching towards Braehead. Orange-clad minions - perhaps redundant elves seeking re-employment - gesticulated in the headlamps to indicate that there was no room in the Blue carpark. Despair set in. We were trapped. There was no way but forward.

But lo! There were spaces in the hitherto unexplored Green carpark. Fired with new and manic enthusiasm we pressed on, arriving among a sea of cut-price Cava in the basement of M & S. We remarked the numbers of desperate-looking men drifting aimlessly or slumped on benches in the main concourse. Verily it was a vision of Hell. The seventh circle, I'd say.

An hour later we emerged, each with one purchase. I had even managed to find that which I had been seeking. A strange exultation possessed us as we careered round the three roundabouts which lay between us and the lonely darkness of the Greenock road. We had survived.

But the careful reader might note the destructive effects of such an experience on my customary deathless prose. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible ...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Geeky genes?

Oh dear. Edublogger's significant other (what a dated term!) observed today that I am as bad as he is - and the source, therefore, of all her computer-related plaints. I think what prompted her *may* have been the sight of us sitting at the dining room table, each with our PowerBook, bluetoothing photos and vying with one another to write the best captions. We were actually speaking to each other at the time, but you get the picture. A sad one, no doubt, but that's family Christmas for you. At least we're still talking. Thing is, we seem to talk about blogging. And stats. And photostreams. If you can't beat 'em ....

But what *do* families talk about after they split up and go their own ways? Seems to me they either sit staring slack-jawed at the dreadful telly on offer at this time, or drink themselves into a fight or a stupor, or they reminisce painfully about what Christmas was like when all the world was young. At least if there is a subject of genuine shared interest you can treat one another like friends - and therefore of interest as people, quite apart from the demands of kinship. So here's to the latest craze, whatever it is - especially if it involves communication.

Even if it *is* over a computer.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Celebrations


Let's get this party started
Originally uploaded by Edublogger.
As you can see from this pic, which I nicked from Ewan's photostream, we at The Blethers do things in style when it comes to celebration. I have refrained from blogging the pic of the plates before dinner was served - too much food to be entirely decent. However, we managed to drag ourselves out for the customary promenade round a largely deserted and very foggy Dunoon between 8-9pm, and have more or less recovered from our earlier excesses. We have also, of course, sung carols and inhaled incense in the uncharacteristically warm church on two different occasions in the past 24 hours - an excellent Christmas altogether.

And so to bed. Happy Christmas!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Sunset over Bute


Sunset over Bute
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
For the first time in 31 years I went for a walk today - Christmas Eve - at a time when I would usually have been making stuffing, cranberry sauce, brandy butter - all that stuff. I might even have been icing a cake (I once did this at 11pm, just before leaving for Midnight Mass) But today all was ready, and we were able to have a wonderful walk in the last of the sun at Toward Point, returning to the car in the dusk as the temperatures fell towards zero.

And it's just as well it's cold. Tonight, our turkey, ready and waiting for the oven, will spend the night in our car. No, it's not taking a ride; it's simply too big for the fridge and (for another first) I'm not cooking it overnight because the oven fan is playing up. At least we'll be able to heat our bedroom up a little if we don't have to share it with a dead bird.

See what my brain is reduced to by all this domesticity? But the rest of the pics are on Flickr and I've had a lovely day so far. Midnight mass later, and then the processing of bird to boot. And yes, you can take that two ways.

Happy Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The native hue of resolution ....

One of the features of this time of year, a feature closely connected with the role of domestic goddess, is the ability to go through an entire day without any attempt at real thought. Apart from a brief existential inner debate about adding apricots and hazelnuts to stuffing, I have pondered not a jot today. I have read practically nothing. I have been busy - though now I can't think what I have achieved. Busyness for the sake of being busy? How easy it is to kid oneself!
But is it possible to weigh serious issues every day of one's life? Probably - but something would have to go, wouldn't it? I'm not thinking about the work which occupied so many years of my life - I may have helped generations of pupils to think seriously, to look at the big ideas, but this was rarely a mind-stretching experience for me. Gratifying, maybe, but not challenging. I am, however, thinking of the all too rare moments when I am seized with the desire to write something - usually a poem - and become obsessed and distant until it is done. Or the days when I have enough self-discipline to shut myself away to study something difficult. On these days I don't necessarily think about useful things like what's for dinner. Yet that is my perceived role for much of the time - I'm the one who buys the ingredients, I'm the kitchen Hitler and without my say-so nothing will happen. How do I weigh that against the cerebral activity? Is a poem of greater value than a well-cooked meal?
And the answer, to me at least, is yes. Huh. Not much cop for a domestic goddess, eh? But I'm delighted at the moment because at last my new collection of 28 poems has come back from the printers. It's called "Who-me?" and costs £5. At the moment most of them are sitting in a box at my feet. I like just having them there. Next week some of them will be sold, as I have orders already. And I'll need to see about a review or two. Meanwhile, if anyone out there has experience of small poetry imprints who might be interesting to me in the future, I've had such a trying time over this collection that I'm looking for new routes. And there's the online vs paper debate - though my readers, I think, like a hard copy.
And now I feel I might go and read a book. I'm in the middle of Donna Tartt's "The Little Friend" - not exactly bedtime reading, but there you are. And there's a half-written fragment of a poem in my bedside drawer .....

(The title, for anyone interested, is from Shakespeare. No prize for completing the quotation - just a virtual pat on the back)

Friday, December 23, 2005

And it's goodnight from him

David's blog recently commented "Ewan's brain is positively fizzing with stuff at the moment" - and now it's fizzing away chez moi .... I shall never think again! This is the moment when I revert to being a domestic goddess instead of an embryonic geek, and my thoughts turn to recipes for red cabbage and plum pudding. (No, not together).
Actually right now it's a bit like Walton's Mountain at The Blethers - remember all these voices calling "goodnight" at the end of each unbelievably twee show?

Goodnight, John-boy ...goodnight.....

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Out of Hours

I managed to watch a bit of "Teacher, Teacher" last night. I was surprised by the strength of my reaction - that there was no way I could think of going back to all that: the kids with their MP3 player earphones in while they were supposed to be listening to the teacher, the comments from the puils about what made a good teacher ... not that they were wrong. No, they were absolutely right, but it was the same old record I'd heard so often before and suddenly I knew I'd had enough.
And then I was reminded about the other side of the job. The stuff that actually I remember with a sense of involvement. Not the work with a good class, rewarding though that could be. Not the hilarity in the staffroom, entertaining and life-enhancing though it was at the time. Not the staff/department meetings - oh no. Not the meetings. No, I'm talking about an extra-curricular activity. I don't intend to be too specific here, but a chance meeting with a senior pupil whom I recruited five years ago made me think.
Any teacher who invests time and energy in an extra-curricular activity is going to be disappointed, exhausted ( especially at 9.30pm when you feel you've been in your classroom forever) and frustrated. But they are also going to enjoy a terrific rapport with the pupils involved, a relationship which is entirely different from that possible in the class situation, the loyalty and support of the pupils and the satisfaction of seeing many of them take on new challenges and grow personally as a result. Personally, I had the best laughs, the biggest adrenaline rushes and the greatest job satisfaction from my years running a rather anarchic magazine - and that is the one thing I regret leaving behind.
Teachers who are "too busy" to take on extra-curricular work miss out, I'd say - and so do their pupils.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Advent Song

An alternative song for this time of the year -

ADVENT SONG

Look, God, look
in the vastness of your dark
hear this song
in the chorus of the world
where I sing
for the glory of your coming
held by love
as the music pours from me
a flame within
as the night falls around me
hear my prayer
and come through the darkness
hold me waiting
as you wait to be born.

© C.M.M

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Waiting time

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the mass illuminations going up all over Dunoon. I dare say I sounded very curmudgeonly. But I’ve just been listening to a recording of carols played by the wonderful Philip Jones Brass ensemble, and one of them in particular, “Wassail Wassail”, captured all that our garishly-lit preparations miss out on. I can’t explain how it happens; it’s one of the great mysteries of music – but these high, precise trumpets and that traditional tune, not associated with particularly religious words, suddenly created a complete vision of stars, and icy darkness, and complete anticipation.

And that’s it. Advent is a time of waiting – and here, on the north-western fringes of Europe, it is a time of long darkness and firelight. I’m not na├»ve – there’s no way I’d swap my comfortable home for a Dark Ages hovel – but the sense of expectation is precious, and still to be found – and hideously lacking in the public manifestations of the season.

So no, I’m not Scrooge. But I am sorry that more people can’t experience the quiet waiting time as just that – because waiting is never disappointing

Widening circles

I've been very interested in Peter Ford's response to my question about self-conscious blogging. Quite apart from the philosophical approach to the subject, there came the realisation of a growing circle of acquaintance, the chance to share ideas with strangers who only know me from what I write. So perhaps it is only right that I should think carefully before posting - not every time, perhaps, but regularly enough to remind myself of the responsibility of the writer to his/her audience.
Philip Larkin, a wonderful poet but a pretty miserable man by my standards, apparently wrote the famous line "what will remain of us is love" (at the end of An Arundel Tomb) *because* he was by that time famous; on the manuscript he scribbled words to the effect that love doesn't last for ever just because a couple of statues are holding hands. So the poem, brilliantly crafted and memorable though it may be, is not actually true to his own feelings.
In my own writing, I have found that it often comes about that a poem on a subject I *really* wanted to write about gets stuck - and the line/image/idea which unsticks it and which sounds much better than the laboriously crafted section which was what I actually *meant* is not true - gives a false impression, misleads the reader, means that the authorial voice is not my voice, but one put on for the occasion.
So: does this matter? Is it better to be truthful or to succumb to temptation? to be unable to agree with the meaning which my reader may take from what I write?
Incidentally, I also have problems over reading literature in translation. At the moment this plays havoc with my participation in Bible study - the text, and my ignorance about source material, keep getting in the way.
But that's another story .....

Sunday, December 18, 2005

They're back!

So glad to see all my friends at TypePad restored to their up-to-date selves - how bereft one feels when things go wrong. It's like having a powercut when you're about to watch "Rome" or whatever. I do remember, however, that when I was small I loved powercuts - all that candle-lighting seemed very romantic, helped by the fact that we had a range in the kitchen and a coal fire in the sitting room - so we didn't freeze - and there was no frozen food to be paranoid about as it melted and refroze, with all the microbes multiplying happily. I think what cured me of this romantic attitude was the time in the early 70s when the early years of my married life (in an all-electric flat, which cooled down amazingly quickly) were blighted by rota power-cuts and bread strikes. I remember that the shops ran out of candles and I was reduced to using wax granules in a meat paste (yuck) jar which exploded after about an hour when it overheated. after that, we used to visit friends who lived in another area and had their cuts at different times. And we used to rush home to cook dinner before the 6pm -9pm cut.

Oh dear. I'll be on about cleaning t'road with tongue if I don't stop. And to think that what I was really worrying about was my inability to understand how to use an RSS feed (or whatever). I may have one, but understanding eludes me. And that despite Claire's valiant efforts to enlighten me.

But now I've been Skyped and I'm stopping. At last.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Cheshire cat blogs?

I was startled to notice this morning that an entry I posted last night on the Cursillo blog had vanished overnight. Further investigation during the day found Ewan's edublogs gradually reverting to entries published last week, shrinking in a rather worrying fashion. Apparently Typepad is down - and technicians are "working diligently" to fix the problem.
Question: where does all the data go? Is it sitting helplessly but intact somewhere, or is it dematerialised like Star Trek personnel after Scotty has failed to beam them up?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Self-conscious bloggers?

A meeting yesterday to discuss communication in the diocese of Argyll & The Isles gave me pause for thought. I see blogging as a fantastic resource for people who may be physically isolated from centres of higher learning and from other people like themselves - all wanting to participate in a learning experience but unwilling/unable to travel miles to do so. I see papers being published on a blog and commented on by peers - and by experts - leading to learning and pre-empting the re-invention of the wheel at every turn. (No pun)
But the apparent resistance to this made me wonder: how self-conscious are we when we blog? Do we each feel we have an image to maintain? In the knowledge that X might read this, do I make sure I don't write anything of which X might disapprove - or, worse, ridicule? So do I stick to being lighthearted? cynical? amusing? omniscient? (hard to keep that up) Or am I forgetting what it was like to write an essay, say, when I was in statu pupillari? When I was bound to be affected by what would go down well with the teacher/examiner?
Perhaps some edublogger with more experience (in blogging - you'd have to be dead old, or simply dead, to have more teaching experience than I) would like to comment on this, and could tell me if a closed blog, with limited access/posting, makes life easier for the inhibited. I've seen some of Ewan's contacts have password-protected areas on their blogs and would welcome feedback.
Meanwhile .. I have a pupil arriving for some face-to-face tuition: no more time for all this virtual stuff !

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Obese weans

Just been listening to radio comment about the obesity "epidemic" among children. I was eating breakfast at the time (All Bran, Muesli, linseeds in minute proportions with soya milk & a dollop of yogurt), brown seeded toast & Vegemite, delicious oatcake- made in Dunoon - and home-made marmalade, tea, orange juice). I never used to enjoy breakfast until I realised that it was dehydration which made me feel sick in the morning! I don't intend to go on about the delights of my own diet (though the soup I made yesterday will be great for lunch...) and I know that not having to go out to work means I can make soup midweek and be around to eat it. But that's not the point.
It seems to me that it's an education thing. If your own children grow up eating food which tastes and looks good, which they know was prepared so that they and you can sit down to give it due attention, they will not be so attracted by instant food. The few microwave meals I've eaten remind me of aeroplane food - or maybe hospital food - and frankly I'd rather eat my fingernails than one of these. Is it the fact that on the packaging they look like "real" meals such as Granny might have made? Granny would birl in her grave.
It's also a matter of perception. "I haven't the time to cook. I work too hard. I come home late and can't be bothered." Presumably these worker bees eat *something*? Will and prioritising come in here. If such a person were to consider the cumulative effect of the additives and the salt they are about to consume, would they still persist in thinking that it was a waste of their precious time to assemble 30 minutes' worth of real food? Nigel Slater is my great guru when it comes to real fast food, and at least one of his recipes has become what might coyly be called "my signature dish".(OK - the spicy lentils, if you must know)
I feel I'm ranting. But having never been one of life's Marthas, and having worked full time while bringing up a family (who are still relatively slender ...and have all their own teeth ...) and having observed the misery of fat children lumbering round the games field in the wake of their skinny pals (and yes, there are still some around) I become incensed when I see parents indulging in this kind of ...what? Abuse? Neglect? Choose how you would define it. Bring a child into the world, stick a bottle in its face because "it involves its father" (bah!), teach it to prefer highly salted/sugared food - and in what seems like the twinkle of an eye you have a couch potato who lives on fizzies and those wildly moreish round crisps. Or the wee square ones.
Last thing: it makes a huge difference to eating habits if you sit at a table and give the act of eating some importance. As Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth said : "The sauce to meat is ceremony." Right enough, her old man was briefing a blood-smeared murderer at the time when he should have been sitting down to his dinner. But you get my drift.

All this and Heaven too!


All this and Heaven too!
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
At the risk of gloating, I have to point out that this is the kind of thing teachers can do when they're sufficiently superannuated to stop teaching! This was taken above Loch Eck this morning - frost in the shadows, warm sun.
But before that, I had a good discussion with Ewan about the possible use of blogs to link together the scattered diocese of Argyll & The Isles, where the Episcopal church has so few stipendiary clergy that education of the laity is a must and where distances and geography conspire to make life difficult.
I'm convinced that the kind of community of which I'm becoming aware in blogdom is the future for us: just as we no longer have strong communities of churchgoers each relying on their own resident expert, so we cannot expect to meet each other in the flesh every time we have a problem to resolve or a learning situation to work through.
I'd welcome any more thoughts on this from edubloggers: think adult education with essays to be looked at and ideas and info to be disseminated, along with good practice and useful experiences. I'm thinking multi-user blogging, the odd encouraging/inspirational podcast, some Skype and video linking - and a big job on the conversion phase!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Snappers snapped


Ewan, Neil, Ben
Originally uploaded by Peter Kaminski.
Came across this pic via Ewan's blog and had to have it - if only for the matching jumpers! Honest - I haven't done this to them in the last 20 years, so it's pure coincidence. Glad to see them having fun ...

A Neolithic afternoon

I always wonder if I'll ever write another poem. Every time one is on the page, I doubt if there'll be more. At the moment I'm waiting for the proof copy of my new collection to come from the printers - the first lot got lost in the post, losing considerable time and a great deal of my work. However, the following is my response to a walk at Ardnadam, where there is a Neolithic settlement, in the gloom of this afternoon. Download MP3 file here

NEOLITHIC

Walking in the early dark
Of afternoon at year’s end
I see your face transfigured by
Unearthly light, a golden glow,
Smiling at a shared recall
Of something that we never knew.
The trees crowd dark and skeletal
As if sprung from that ancient wood
Where huntsman with their dogs had gone,
Their feet soft in the golden road -
And still the bright dusk clothes us round
And time seems thin and whispers grow -
The blood sings: and shall I stay?
But darkness falls and life is now
And home elsewhere and not among
The grey stone walls beneath the trees
Where hearths lie cold and silence grows.

C.M.M. 12/05 ©

Friday, December 09, 2005

Pinter lecture

Just read Harold Pinter's Nobel lecture here - wow! Sums up all the things I've always wondered about and hadn't strung together. When there's a writer saying this stuff so powerfully I can't help wondering why we are still living through this absurd relationship. Makes me want to man a barricade somewhere - or at least lie down in the road, as I did in a past incarnation.
Maybe protest has grown up - or maybe it takes all kinds. Always.

Podcasting en Francais

Suffering from a bout of nepotism, I feel moved to point my linguistically-gifted friends at a Belgian site where Ewan, described as "tres chaleureux et enthousiaste" by his interviewer, is waxing enthusiastic for eternity in rather rapid French.
Having only recently been bitten by the blogging bug, I share his evangelical fervour as keenly as any new convert - and am convinced of the genre's beneficial effect on, among other pursuits, writing skills. It is so different from casual emails, where missing caps and glitches don't seem to matter; I will go back to edit anything I notice once it goes on site. I have always advocated the keeping of a journal as a way to enhance fluency in writing, but this is a journal with a potential audience - more journalism than journal - and as such encourages care and thought.
In fact - and here I go sticking my neck out - I notice a difference in the writing (in English) of one blogging relative since he started blogging. That's six months of time (so you know who you are ;-)) and would represent a triumph for any English teacher. Pupils often realise that they have to *pass* English to "get on" - but apart from that often express the opinion that they will never need to use it after school (a bit like my own Higher Maths?). I would suggest that in a world of rapid job-change and insecurity, a journalistic ability might well turn out to be a useful asset.

Besides - it's addictive.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Minor triumph ...

Thoroughly enjoyed visit to Edinburgh (not least because of the gluhwein at the German Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens!) - where I managed to introduce the idea of blogging to the people involved in encouraging lay education in the Scottish Episcopal Church. It was interesting to hear the same arguments I've read in Ewan's blog against open-ness and lack of control over who reads what surfacing in yet another educational situation, but happily there were more nibblers at the idea than there were doubters, so I've fixed them a blog and we'll see how it goes.
It's also great to realise I have friends overseas reading this - please post in the comments!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Lighting-up Time

Came down half an hour ago from the darkness of the Bishop's Glen back into the town. Amazing. We noted one garden ablaze with tree-lights; next door a silent figure was wrestling with a bush - no doubt in emulation of his better-prepared neighbour. Further down the road, we could see wildly flashing lights moving erratically at some height above the ground. This turned out not to be anything more sinister than a National Lampoon-type attempt to wrap a largish Victorian semi-detached villa of two storeys in illuminations - but at what cost to the nerves, as the house-owner swayed precariously on the top rung of an extending ladder as he hammered nails into his roof.
Now in these parts we *need* our roofs. They need strong slates, good ridging - and no more wee holes than are strictly necessary to hold them together. It's one thing to deck a low-rise ranch-style dwelling in some place where crisp dry winters - or maybe some picturesque snow - are the norm, but here we do RAIN. And strong westerly winds to drive it into crannies. Any wee holes and you soon have a wee drip to go with them.
Meanwhile, as the darkness grows out there, I hope that man has got on to the lights which were draped - all on, all flashing - on the ground round the back of the house. I may go back for a look some evening. But now, should I maybe find the Christmas cards I bought last summer ....?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sofa, so bad.

Just been listening to a tale of woe about a sofa. Righteous indignation on behalf of my friends impells me to convey the gist of the tale. Here goes.
In July - July 7th, to be precise, two householders decide to buy a sofa - locally, to support the local small-town economy. Heart of Home seems to promise what they want, so they place an order and pay £1,000. "Six weeks", they are told. Six weeks pass. When they ring to ask where their sofa is, they are told it will be in a few days. But no: a few days later they hear that the sofa doesn't actually exist yet as the manufacturers have run out of materials.
A few comings and goings later, my friends think they'd like their money back. All this time, they have been sitting on picnic chairs. They have sore backs and painful bottoms.
No money can be returned. "Try Trading Standards", they are advised. No joy.
It is now December. Solicitors are involved. They cost money. So does court action. The local paper doesn't publish their letter - can't go upsetting local business, now, can we? They even stage a mini-demo outside the shop, but apparently have to desist. Now the shop has "banned" them from entering.
So if you find yourself in a small seaside town considering a purchase in a shop called "Heart of Home" ?

'Nuff said.

But how is it not theft to hang onto someone's money for six months in this fashion?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Boring Old Bloggers

Well, I've heard it all. "Blogger" as a term of derision - nay, abuse. Dropped in on past colleagues at coffee time today - to give a fellow-blogger some backup - to find that little had changed. Glad it's not my job to evangelise - not like Ewan and David ;-)
Never mind - Ewan at least should find himself in loads of like-minded company at Les Blogs in Paris next week. Meanwhile, I'll go on living the life of a sad geekess in the misty penumbra of Europe ... but at least I've got my photo fixed!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Wee techy moan - plus

I've been trying to put my photo in my profile. It's on my flickr photostream, which I use happily to blog other photos elsewhere on this blog. But when I try to give the relevant photo URL - quite a long one - Blogger tells me the photo has not got an "acceptable extension" - like "jpg", for example. Now this long URL I put in the box does in fact end ...jpg, it's just that it vanishes out of the end of the box. But it's there, all right. What am I doing wrong? Help, one of you savants out there!

Meanwhile, I'll write briefly about what I *am* competent with : words. It strikes me that there are times when facility with language, whether it be poetic or devastatingly direct, can land you in a problematic place. I know I can come out with lines which actually affect people - that's the poetry; I can also demolish with a brisk sentence or two. In both cases, I stand back from the creation and think "Good stuff!" Then I either wonder if I'm a charletan - manipulating emotions - or feel guilty because I've thumped someone, metaphorically speaking.

Ah well. An English teacher in my youth, now no longer with us, once snarled at me that I was "so sharp I'd fall and cut myself". Maybe she was right - but goodness, how I disliked her!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Edublogging

I started this blog for fun, really - somewhere to ramble. But after a series of posts today, I've been struck forcibly by the sense of community and sheer usefulness of blogging as an educational tool. After reading David's comments to previous posts, I checked out his blog and from there visited the blog of one of his students - and suddenly realised I could probably offer some useful input here.

After all - who tells you how to be a teacher? You have methods lectures in college (and yes, I think the whole college bit is a lot more high-powered than it was in my day) and you visit schools, where you may or may not observe good practice. You watch, listen - and then are left in front of a class to do it yourself. You might have helpful comment from the teacher present - or they might take the chance to get on with their marking and not really give you their whole attention. Schools are really pressured places - because there are all these people waiting to create mayhem, given half a chance. The only way to avoid this is to keep on top. It's a miracle any of us learn anything.

But here in the blogsphere (do I really like that expression?) we have a place where problems, advice, solutions, experiences - all can be parked here for scrutiny, disagreement, or simply to be ignored. At the moment I'm not doing this for any reason other than enjoyment - and because I really enjoyed teaching, and dealing with boys' classes, and all the nonsense as well as the fulfilment, for over 30 years. And I was good at it. So if I can help anyone reading this - fine. And if not - I don't care. And that's fine too.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Girnings

From my previous posts, it will be obvious that I had a great time at the weekend. Part of that weekend involved singing in an Advent Carol service. Advent has to be my favourite season in the Church year - this terrific sense of expectancy, in the dark of the Celtic winter, where the candle flames are a tiny flicker in the gloom. But was MY enjoyment at the expense of someone else's? There was at least one person present who, apparently, has girned her way through the two days since the service - so obviously not a happy bunny!

This leads me, slightly waywardly, into considering the difficulties of running a voluntary organisation like the church. Enthusiastic people - great, but also difficult. When does one person's enthusiasm become another's bete noir? How do you tell someone that actually their efforts are not helpful - and how do you deal with someone who makes destructive comments? who seems oblivious to hurt caused?
I suspect that traditionally the clergy have soaked up a lot of this stuff. After all, that's what they're paid for, right? (Sarcasm, here) But now that full-time priests are becoming an endangered species, more of us are becoming aware of all this fermenting that goes on beneath the smiling surface - what the poet/priest R.S.Thomas memorably referred to as "the dark filling in their smiling sandwich" ("The Priest") and feeling at a loss how to deal with it. It's easy if you revert to what for some of us are basic instincts - but these are not often helpful. The unreconstructed me would like to savage the girner with all the skill of long practice - but this would probably be A Bad Thing. So I won't.
Blogging as catharsis, eh? Great.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Voskresenije in Holy Trinity

What a weekend! Not only was I singing in a wonderful Advent Carol Service in the Cathedral of The Isles, Cumbrae - I was also involved in the organisation of the fourth visit of Voskresenije, from St Petersburg, to Holy Trinity church, Dunoon. This was their fourth visit, so Jurij Maruk, their conductor, and others who have returned with him, now feel like old friends - especially to all of us who give them hospitality in our homes.
These singers - all professionals - spend two months at a time on the road, touring in the UK and in Europe. The hire of their mini-bus - driven by Jurij - costs them £6,000, so it takes them 12 concerts merely to break even. This tour, they performed more than 40 concerts. They should be on their way home today (Monday) - Jurij intends to sleep for 3 days.
They are SUCH good value! The sound they make is very different from our singing here in the UK - something to do with the position of the larynx, apparently - and is immensely stirring. They sang excerpts from Rachmaninov's Vespers as well as the folk music of the second half, and ended with a performance of John McIntosh's arrangement of "Auld Lang Syne", which is on their last CD.
Now I want to add another photo - but as I can't work out how to do it here, I'll have to do another post!

Voskresenije in performance

Anatoly Artomonov is a rare example of a true basso profundo - his low notes are almost out of sight! Also in this photo is the youngest and newest recruit to the choir - Olga Bondarchuk.
Apparently, they found their visit to Dunoon one of their warmest venues - and warm hospitality too! I can believe the latter - but Holy Trinity? Warm? some people must be REALLY badly off!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Old Wine?

Reading Don's blog today, I couldn't help thinking about the implications of the new school building which is struggling to emerge from the mud - rather like the orcs in LOTR? Don talks about new beginnings - and I know what he means - but new beginnings won't happen without some new ideas, some truly energetic and inspiring leadership, and a real vision of what a school can be.
I'm going to stick my neck out and say that despite the obvious fact that most teachers are exhausted by the job it is vital that they are able to enjoy what they are doing. They can't do this if the clientele are disruptive and rude. What makes the pupils like this? boredom? upbringing? indifference? What can teachers do about these factors? Can't do anything about the upbringing, that's for sure.
The day of the boring teacher, however, is surely past. I can remember being bored out of my tree in some classes at school. But I was an academically inclined soul, quite content to supplement the deficiencies of my English teacher's technique with a packet of sweets - I recall Mintolas with special affection - and a book of my own under the desk. In a class of 40 it was quite possible to hide quietly and ignore everyone else. Nowadays I'd probably be much more aggressive - as indeed I was, recently, in the one meeting of an FE class I attended. Life is too short to be given a handout and then have it read, word by word, by a teacher who only has 5 adults in front of her.
If new teaching methods - blogging, for example, and podcasting - aren't adopted, that new school will be just like the old one, only smaller.

Oh - the title is biblical, by the way.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Art in action

Via Ewan's blog comes this wonderful site ... sit back and enjoy! Shades of Tony Hart if you're old enough, Rolf Harris if you're not - dead inspiring anyway.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Working students?

Well, well, well. Today's Guardian tells us that it's now official: if students work at paid jobs while they are at uni, their chances of getting a first or a 2:1 are reduced by a third. I'm glad someone has at last got round to doing a proper survey on this. For the last 15 years or so I've been nagging at school pupils - especially those aspiring to a Higher English pass - to consider the relative importance of a job in Safeway against the possibility that they might get a good enough bunch of Highers not to end up working there for the rest of their lives. I might as well have saved my breath for all the difference it made - and there were plenty of teachers ready to tell me how THEY had toiled in some low-paid job through THEIR degree - and look at how well they'd done!
I have always subscribed to the idea that if you're a student, you need time not just to study but to BE. To lie on your unmade bed and stare at the ceiling, if need be. To read books that are not necessary for your course. To stay up half the night chatting with your intellectual equals - not the punters in whatever pub you're employed in. To indulge in extra-curricular activities that nourish the soul and not just the bank balance. And if you feel financially inferior as a result? Such a life as I've sketched out doesn't call for loads of dosh. You don't need to be drunk every night, or dressed to kill. (And if you're working in Safeway you'll not be drunk either, and you'll have to wear a hideous pinny) And yes, I know that Safeway has disappeared from these shores - but they're the ones I railed against all these years - and the ones with the hideous pinnies.

Life and the need to earn money come soon enough. Anyone who can put it all off should do so. For as long as possible.

BIG ship on the Clyde


BIG ship on the Clyde
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
This is the view which distracts me from my work - whether it's ironing (which I should be doing) or blogging (which I am doing). This ship appeared enormous - the rest of the river traffic was dwarfed by it, though unfortunately I was unable to include any of it in this pic.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Shades of the prison house

Yesterday I was asked if I could go back to work for a few days - English teaching, not babysitting *Biff Science - but declined the offer. I'd just been contemplating how joyous life is at the moment, and the thought of incarcerating myself, even for a few days, appalled me. It wasn't always like this. But when I look at the faces of my former colleagues, see the strain showing in someone young enough to have a further 20 years in the job, I know it's not just age speaking to me.
So what IS wrong with teaching these days? I was very good at it - let's not have any false modesty here! - but to do the job properly takes an amazing amount of energy at the best of times. And most teachers have maybe one class a day who will give them these best times - and another four who will drain them of the will to live. Twenty seven pupils. Smallish room, stuffy with the smell of wet anoraks (this is Argyll, after all) and worse. Kids without any visible means of written communication - pencil, pen, jotter. The bore of having to point out that such lack is unacceptable, day in day out. (If you simply pass them some tatty pencil and tell them to get on with it you're reinforcing bad habits, apparently). A computerised registration system (on a PC - not a lovely Mac) which crashes every time you try to access the next class list while the newly-arrived class gradually forgets why they have come and settles down for a gossip/fight/let's-fire-spitballs-at-the-ceiling session. Do you realise we haven't actually got on to the lesson yet? Haven't even taken the damn register? (Must take the register - if you forget, that'll be the day some kid skives off and gets run over when they should be safe with you)
Finally the required screen surfaces and you restore quiet. The register is done and submitted. It's perhaps ten minutes into the lesson and you haven't taught a thing. The child in the corner has started to moan quietly - and if you're a supply teacher you won't know why this is happening. The classroom assistant is off ill - "you can manage without her today, can't you?"

Nope. I'm glad I'm sitting here now writing about it instead of doing it up the road. Later I shall go up the glen and cut greenery for the Advent Wreath in church. After that I shall look at some music I shall be singing at the weekend. The Christmas cake is in the oven. I should be sorry for the people who will have "Please Takes" today because I'm not working - and I am, because an extra class can be the last straw when you're knackered - but not THAT sorry.

And there's a Parents' Evening tonight. My cup is full!



*Biff Science - the wonderful self-description of a class who are not sufficiently accomplished to take a Standard Grade class in Chemistry, Physics or Biology, but instead study a General Science course.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

JFK Anniversary

Just realised that this is the day John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. November always strikes me as the month for remembrance - whether of saints, souls or war dead - so I'll remember me on that day. Final year at secondary school, stayed late for orchestra practice (it was a Friday), visited grandmother after dinner - and she had a telly. We didn't. The screen was black, with the globe turning. I think there was some quiet music - just to tell you the TV wasn't burst? then the news - and later, the famous film by an onlooker. Edited, to cut out the fact that the fatal shot came from in front of the presidential limo.
I saw live on TV the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald - Sunday afternoon, I think - but it was the papers on the Monday morning that I remember most: the photos of Jackie Kennedy in the blood-stained suit (couldn't see the red blood or the pinkness of the suit,as papers were monochrome, like the TV), holding LBJ's hand as he took the oath. I remember it made me feel sick, and I skived off school until mid-morning, when I could bear my own company no longer and went in to have someone to talk to.
Was it being young that made me so affected by this? Nothing has had the same effect since - car-crash curiosity, yes, but not that terrible feeling of involvement. Maybe the world was still relatively "young in deed", as Macbeth put it.
Well, we're growing up - fast.

Genius ...

That's it. I'm going to get a job with Scottish Gas. The Gas Man came, as promised, and confirmed my (MY) diagnosis of the problem. A long flue, a very cold night, cold air rushes heavily down the flue, swamps feeble heat of fire left on "low" to warm the room where we were not sitting, fumes can't make it to the top of the flue and instead flop into the room. Result - screaming carbon monoxide detectors.
So we've got our fire back. And we've just heard that the cost of gas is rising - by 50%? Before we know it, we'll be huddling over an open fire burning scraps of wood and potato peelings. Oh - and maybe a coal briquette. We burned them, apparently, when I was two and there was a shortage of proper coal. But then there had been a war. Oops - are we in the aftermath of another one?

Kickstart

Sitting here at an hour when sleep would be sensible I'm thinking back to the chaos of Saturday evening when all our carbon monoxide detectors started screaming and had us running round like headless chickens trying to shut them up. (They don't have "off" switches, these things) With the loudest one shoved under a cushion, we rang the emergency number. "Switch off all gas appliances, turn off the gas at the meter, open windows and doors, evacuate the property (it was zero degrees outside), don't switch any electric switches on or off .... by this time we were gibbering. Were our lips turning blue? Was creeping paralysis affecting us? (no - we were still running aimlessly from room to room)
Eventually a nice man turned up - yes, at 11.30 on a Saturday night. He made soothing noises. He isolated the offending fire. It's only a year old, but it is obviously ailing. He stuck a big label on it - danger of death or some such wording.
Perhaps Scottish Gas will come and check it tomorrow. We have a contract which promises same day attention, but it only works if you have no other source of heat, and preferably a dicky heart as well. We felt truly humbled when they put it to us that we were fine because we didn't meet these stringent conditions. They don't actually appear on the contract, but hey, it's winter, it's cold, they're busy.
We shall see.

Quite therapeutic, this blogging caper.....

Monday, November 21, 2005

Nice photo


This is a view of Loch Striven, taken on a wonderful frosty morning last week - when I was enjoying the novel experience of doing what I wanted when I wanted to. But really I'm just working out how to do things on this blog.